‘Don’t make it look pretty,” Danielle Agami said as she directed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during a recent rehearsal. “It’s not about the construction of beauty, it’s about the sensation. Every gesture, posture, and breath is beautiful. Just let your body be.”
Agami, a former member of Batsheva Dance Company, spent November at the Ailey Studios helping Ohad Naharin set his work, “Minus 16,” on the company, adapting it for the specific dancers at hand. The piece, which premiered on December 9 at New York City Center, has a musical score that ranges from Dean Martin to traditional Israeli songs. The choreography uses Naharin’s acclaimed “Gaga” method to shake up the traditional dance concert experience.
Performed by multiple international companies since its 1999 world premiere in The Hague by Netherlands Dance Theater II, “Minus 16” is based on excerpts from other pieces in Naharin’s repertory, including “Mabul” (1992), “Anaphaza” (1993) and “Zachacha” (1998). Although the piece has a defined structure, it is tailored differently for each dance group, and features improvisational elements as well as audience participation. Adhering to the “Gaga” technique, Naharin tries to capture the instinctual motions of the particular dancers, adding or subtracting elements to reflect the individuality of the company performing.
Ailey, a company that has pioneered modern dance for more than 50 years, is known for majestic, athletic movement that celebrates the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. Naharin is Israel’s most famous choreographer, and his collaboration with the influential American dance company is a testament to the stature of his work. For Ailey, recently under a new artistic director, Robert Battle, the company premiere of “Minus 16” is groundbreaking. “This piece is edgy, and it’s unlike anything we’ve done before,” Battle said. “It is pushing our dancers and our audience.”
Naharin’s adventurous piece comes alive on Ailey’s dancers. In rehearsal, Samuel Lee Roberts started the opening improvisation with a variety of walks, skips and jumps. On his chiseled physique, each quirky gesture had punch and clarity. Later, Ghrai DeVore and Kirven James Boyd exhibited exquisite body control in a romantic duet. While their movement was supple, each lift and embrace maintained a powerful intensity.
“They are sophisticated movers with a real passion,” Agami said. “They are used to having perfect lines and everything looking ‘wow’ and polished. But after a short time, they peeled away the technique; they went deeper, and got down to their instincts.”